Mussels may have a bad reputation, known for damaging the hulls of boats, but it turns out they can also help with an array of problems, including cleaning up oil spills.
That's according to scientists hailing from China and the U.S. which published a study showcasing how mussels can be used to clean contaminated water and oil spills.
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Mussels are able to survive in the ocean, withstanding waves and currents by attaching to rocks by relying on clusters of byssus threads made up of dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA). The Chinese and U.S. scientists discovered DOPA can adhere to more than just rocks or the hull of boats as can dopamine, a molecule that is similar in structure to DOPA. The scientists concluded that dopamine can create a universal coating for a variety of substrates which can be used for engineering and science.
"Mussels are broadly regarded as a nuisance in marine industries because they will colonize submerged surfaces," said Hao-Cheng Yang a researcher at the School of Chemical Engineering and Technology at Sun Yat-sen University in China in the published report. "But from another point of view, the robust attachment of mussels on substrates under water has inspired a biomimetic strategy to realize strong adhesion between materials in water."
Mussels Have Already Inspired Research Work
The research has already prompted innovations inspired by mussels. A group of Chinese scientists used a mussel-like coating to create a universal red blood cell that all blood types can accept. The red blood cell is blocked from detection by the body's immune system thanks to a mussel-inspired coating.
Other scientists created materials for removing oil from water which could help reduce the impact from oil spills to marine life. Researchers are also using it to work on purifying water using materials to remove heavy metals and other pollutants.
While mussels are inspiring a lot of research, scientists caution there is still a lot of work that has to be done before it can be applied in the real world.
"Despite simplicity and effectiveness, there are still some inherent limitations," Yang said. "Alkaline conditions are usually needed to realize the polymerization of dopamine, so it cannot be applied to materials that are unstable under alkaline conditions. Moreover, the deposition of PDA is a time-consuming process—it takes tens of hours to form a uniform coating on most material surfaces."